Roses in December


 On December 2, 1980, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Jean Donovan and Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel were brutally raped, murdered and buried in a shallow grave on the side of the road outside the airport in San Salvador. These churchwomen are sometimes called the four roses of December...

NCR's columnist John Dear recounts their story:
I stepped out of my room and reached down for the Durham Morning Herald and blanched at the headline: "Four churchwomen killed in El Salvador." Their bodies had been found in a shallow grave in a barren region some 15 miles from the San Salvador airport.

Three were nuns: Sr. Ita Ford of Maryknoll had spent years in Chile; Sr. Maura Clarke also of Maryknoll had spent years in Nicaragua; and Sr. Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline nun from Cleveland worked in El Salvador. The fourth, a young laywoman, Jean Donovan, had volunteered to go to El Salvador through a church mission program.

Sr. Ita Ford stands, to my mind, as one of the church's giants. She was targeted specifically by U.S.-backed Salvadoran death squads because she stood up to them in defense of the disappeared. "You say you don't want anything to happen to me," she wrote her sister in 1980. "I'd prefer it that way myself -- but I don't see that we have control over the forces of madness, and if you could choose to enter into other people's suffering, or to love others, you at least have to consent in some way to the possible consequences. Actually what I've learned here is that death is not the worst evil. We look death in the face every day. But the cause of the death is evil. That's what we have to wrestle and fight against."

Sr. Maura Clarke spent 17 years in Nicaragua working against the U.S.-backed Somozoa dictatorship, before moving to El Salvador only months before her death. "If we leave the people when they suffer the cross, how credible is our word to them?" she wrote only weeks before her death. "The church's role is to accompany those who suffer the most, and to witness our hope in the resurrection."

Sr. Dorothy Kazel joined the Cleveland Mission Team in El Salvador and was assigned to work in the parish of La Libertad with Jean Donovan. Dorothy was beloved by one and all. She was feisty, lively and sweet.

Jean Donovan grew up in upper-middle-class Westport, Conn., attended the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, spent a life-changing year in Ireland, and tried to become an accountant. Instead, she joined the Cleveland diocese and Maryknoll Lay Mission programs to serve in El Salvador. After several years, she found herself in the center of a war zone. And more often than not, she and the others spent their days picking up murdered bodies left along the road...

That summer, Jean's two closest friends were assassinated after they had taken her to a movie and walked her home. Their deaths devastated her."The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low," she wrote later that fall. "The danger is extreme and they were right to leave. Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine..."

On the evening of Dec. 2, Jean and Dorothy drove to the airport to meet Ita and Maura, who were returning from Managua. The four women were last seen driving from the airport down the main road. Two days later their bodies were discovered. They had been raped and shot at close range...

(Read the complete article here)

O God,
We remember today four women who risked everything
for their love of the Prince of Peace and his beloved people...

They heard you calling in the night,
they heard the cry of the poor
they carried your people's pain...

When you call me in this Advent season,
I pray I'll have the faith and trust to answer,
"Here I am, Lord.
I will go where you lead me."

Show me how, in my own time and place,
in my own daily circumstances,
I might hear and answer the cry of the poor
and hold your people in my heart...  


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